Tag Archives: teaching

The kid who knows too little

The girl drove me crazy.

She always called me over, always wanted me to hold her hand and walk her through what to do. She’s in a huge class of students who…keep me on my toes. And she wanted my attention 100%.

The thing is she has a great eye, and she’s super creative, and she seems to be a good student. Except in my class. 

In my class she lost 30 photos. In my class she didn’t follow the step by step instructions printed on the sheet in front of her. In my class she wanted my every moment and that just wasn’t possible.

Frustration set in, on both our parts.

Until the middle of second six weeks when she asked a new question. So how do I make a new PowerPoint again? And the girl sitting next to her added, “What is an attachment?” And the one next to her said, “I never really used email before.”

And just like that I realized for weeks I’d been speaking a foreign language to these kids. And the “Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee,” girl was actually the brave one willing to ask the questions.

It took three class periods, but in the end they knew what to do, and now when they walk in the classroom, they do amazing work. We lost weeks because I let my frustration get in the way of finding the positive and I didn’t bother talking to and with them to see if I could understand what the heck was wrong.

Ugh.

Something to remember for next year.

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Yes, you should be a teacher

Mrs. Lee, I’m thinking about being a teacher, but I just don’t know. What do you think?
My former students ask me this question pretty often. My answer has not changed even though education has.
Yes. Yes, you should be a teacher. No other job is as rewarding as awe-inspiring, as beautiful and life affirming as teaching.

Yes, teaching has changed, and yes, everything is more test centric. Despite that, teaching is still an incredible job.

Yes, kids curse and question authority and their phones will drive you crazy. Kids always cursed and questioned authority. It’s different now for a lot of reasons, but that’s not just an education issue. And the phones are crazy, but walk into any restaurant and look around. It’s the same everywhere, and it’s certainly not just the kids. We get to be part of teaching society how to use those phones successfully instead of letting them control our lives.
Yes, teaching hurts sometimes. When your kids lose parents or grandparents or get kicked out or live in a hotel or come to school dirty and hungry or get involved in the slippery slope of drugs and alcohol or go through bad breakups or fail their STAARs or get criticized and ridiculed for work they were proud of or wreck their cars or drop out–GOD, that last one hurts so bad–you bet it hurts. And that’s why you will be an amazing and wonderful teacher. Because it does hurt you and you will do everything in your power to help your kids through the tough stuff. 

Yes, politicians who are beholden to banks and other special interests will make you crazy. Yes, the politics of teaching can drag you down if you don’t let it energize you. Yes, you will sacrifice sleep and money and health. And still, yes, you should teach.
Unless, the only reason you’re thinking about teaching is the decent starting salary. Because if that’s it, no, no, no, no. You don’t want to teach for the money, I promise. 
Teaching is hard physically and emotionally. It takes everything you’ve got to do it well, and there will be days you suck it up in the classroom, and those days can have terrible consequences if you’re not immediately aware. You will go home Fridays and crash. You will spend hours (and sometimes $$$) on lessons that fall flat. You will lay sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling worrying about a kid in your class, you will ask for unspoken prayer requests for kids going through struggles that seem impossible.
You will gain weight if you are not extremely careful or blessed with great metabolism or someone who works out constantly. You will work sick and miss moments with your family. You will sit through meetings wondering why on earth they didn’t just send an email or read emails wondering why on earth they didn’t have a meeting. You’ll go through great new concept after great new concept after great new concept discarding the one that came before for the new until your head is spinning and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be doing.
And still, you should be a teacher.
Because yes, there is heartache and frustration, but there is so much more. You are changing the world, lighting a light, showing the way, challenging and enlightening and loving kids to success. And honestly, there is no better job in the world.

If you feel like maybe you want to teach, try and see. Give yourself three years to discover if the classroom is your calling. If it’s not, that’s okay too. You’ll still look back on your time with kids as an educational experience. If it is your calling, you have found an amazing life journey and the best job in the world. ❤️

A Moment

In my classes we’re always talking about capturing moments. Today I had an epiphany.

It started yesterday at in-service when Dr. Cupp told us about the Five Blessings and how they can impact our kids. 

Today was the first day with kids after break. I originally planned a big lesson because we’ve got work to get done. But yesterday I scrapped that.

Sometimes I do a goal setting lesson. Today I decided to make it a dream lesson and to try to help the kids feel connected.

I knew it would work in yearbook, but photo is a different monster. The kids in photo didn’t sign up for what they’ve done this semester. They didn’t know the amount of work they’d be doing for yearbook. At times about half the class has been resistant since Thanksgiving. I almost let the fear of their resistance let me back out of a powerful lesson.

The lesson is certainly not new, and I totally stole bits and pieces of it over the years.

I had the kids grab a piece of blank colored paper and write their name at the top then tape the paper to their backs. Then I had them use markers and write nice things about each other.

I worried someone would be mean or someone would opt out. Once that starts it’s a tidal wave of whiny. But I still did the activity.

When they were done one of kids said “What do we do with this now?”

I said it was up to him. He could throw it out during passing period or keep it. It was completely up to him.

The kids spent several minutes reading their signs and thanking each other before we transitioned to the next activity: the I Want list. That list is powerful. I’ve always loved sharing the power of writing your I Wants down with kids. Often they’ll freak out stressing over the paper until I tell them the list is for them NOT me.

Today at the end of class I watched three kids throw the blank paper with compliments away. But before the end of class I watched several kids fold their papers up and put them away. 

Day one. No deadlines, no regular lesson plan, but today a class of kids felt good about themselves. And today this teacher learned to go with her gut and not let fear keep her from trying. 

 

#YearbookForever

When my first principal called and asked me to take over yearbook, I said no. In my mind, I said a whole lot more than no. Newspaper was part of my soul. I’d grown up revering Walter Cronkite and reading newspapers. I fell in love with journalistic writing in high school when my adviser Mrs. Gillespie introduced me to the wonderful world of UIL and then taught me how to win.

We toured TRN and the people working at paste up with the light boards and glue and tape were so happy. And the smell of ink and paper…ahhhh. Heaven. And the reporters with their cubicles and frenetic pace. And the editor and his big office with the giant conference table for planning the issues. Yes. This was perfection. I’d found my purpose.

But yearbook? No. Just no. It was a bunch of debutantes and cheerleaders and preppy boys. No, thank you. (Former students, stick with me here. There’s a moral to this story.)

The excuse I gave was not so disparaging. I just started my MA, so I wouldn’t have time. No, thank you.

But that principal didn’t take no for an answer. He told me to call a crosstown J adviser I knew from student teaching who advised both programs and who had finished her MA advising both. I called Linda Fain, and she told me I’d be crazy not to do both because teaching English was waaaayyyy more difficult than advising yearbook.

So, cheerleader, debutantes and preppy boys all, I took on the job of yearbook adviser. It took less than a day for me to realize stereotypes suck for a reason. Because yes, yearbook was filled with all those types of kids. Just like newspaper, it was filled with all types of kids period. AND cheerleaders, debutantes and preppy boys were the same kind of wonderful as all the other types of kids out there.

By this time I had three years of newspaper kids, so the program was finally mine. I knew nothing about yearbook, though. I mean NOTHING. I only had one of my high school yearbooks (now one of my biggest regrets). I never thought yearbook was important. I mean it was pretty and all, but it was filled with all the “popular, preppy, pretty” kids so who cared? (Again, stereotypes suck. Man, I had a chip on my shoulder I didn’t even know existed back then.)

My first group of editors taught me the truth about yearbook. Yes, the yearbook is filled with photos of kids who carry the school’s spirit. If they go to everything, they’re in the book more. AND they should be.  BUT the yearbook is so much more. It’s a writing, art and creativity laboratory where kids take the school and transform everything that’s awesome about it into a book format so that those memories last forever. It’s about making an archivable product that people open and say, Holy Cow! This is the best school ever. I want to go there! It’s about telling those stories that last forever in the best way possible: through words, photos or design. It’s about giving the invisible a voice, if they want it, and showing how even though we’re all different, we’re still all Raiders (insert whatever mascot if you’re reading this and not part of Raider Nation). It’s a stereotype breaker, a demanding product that requires hours of time, complete collaboration and thinking outside the box or else it gets redundant, and you don’t want that. It’s on the job training, summer training, fall training and constantly working to get better and better and better. It’s OHMYGOD nerve-wracking because what if people don’t like it?!? It’s a place to learn the thick skin needed when you have the courage to publish your work because GUARANTEED someone WON’T like it. It’s fun and amazing and hard and, dear Jesus, it’s expensive. BUT it’s also so, so priceless.

And it’s a lot like newspaper. Different, but the same.

And I love it.

That chip on my shoulder was smashed to pieces when I took on the yearbook, and I’m a better teacher because of it.

I thought yearbook was fluff. I’ve learned it’s life. It’s the school. It’s forever.

I’m so, so blessed.

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18 yearbooks advised this year. 21 newspapers. #Awesome

Storm clouds on the classroom horizon

stormcloudsExhausted after a crazy deadline, I walked into my house to find my husband watching the news. Instead of the normal, “Hey Babe,” he said, “I guess you heard the news today.”

The dread that hit was hard and fast. I hadn’t seen the news. I turned off my news notifications a year ago after yet another school shooting. I was sure he was going to tell me there’d been anther Sandy Hook.

I was wrong. Instead he told me a story about a girl with a phone in a classroom that ended up with her being tossed across a classroom floor for non-compliance.

By now everyone knows about that incident. If you don’t, feel free to click the link.

When I first heard the story, I’m going to be honest, my immediate response was what the heck? What child thinks it’s okay to ignore and defy the teacher, ignore and defy the principal and then ignore and defy a police officer? And I put the face of some of my defiant students over the years on that kid’s face and thought, man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could see a kid get put in their place for that kind of behavior.

But then I saw the video.

And then I had a few hours to let that video sink in.

And then I felt real shame for my initial response.

The next morning I heard a great interview on NPR. The sheriff of the town explained that he didn’t believe his officer should have been placed in the situation, but once he was, he should have known better than to lay hands on a non-violent offender. End of story.

I’ve watched the ensuing media coverage of the incident with interest.

I don’t know what was going on in that classroom. I don’t know that school’s disciplinary process.

More than anything I know when you walk into a classroom as a student, you are entering a social contract with the teacher. School is a social contract. Students are choosing to follow the rules, to obey, to take part in their classes.

If they choose not to enter the contract, frustration follows and that frustration can lead to confrontation. And if a confrontation gets ugly enough, we lose the kid. It’s over. They’re done.

I try to act before I lose the kid.

Some kids are lost before they walk in our classrooms. We have to try to change that. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we fail.

I don’t have a clue where that kid on the video falls on the spectrum of discipline issues. Does she have some disorder where the mere suggestion of reprimand sets her off? Was she used to doing whatever she wanted no matter what? Is there a known set of consequences to the students for non-compliant behavior?

Her peers were videoing the incident, obviously with phones. Were other children allowed to have phones while she wasn’t? The list goes on and on and on.

Phones are a problem at school. Even with a lenient phone policy at school, phones are a problem.

Kids want to be on them when they’re done working. Many don’t know how to fill time without their phones. But shoot, how often do you see adults on their phones in church, on dates, at the movies? I’ve seen adults take phone calls in the middle of meetings and TALK while a speaker was presenting. Phones are a problem period.

But phones aren’t the biggest problem in this incident.

I asked my beginning students how many of them have been in a class where a kid decided they weren’t going to comply with the unspoken agreement between the teacher and her class. 100% of them raised their hands.

This is nothing new. Kids have been bucking the system since schools began. But the numbers showing blatant disrespect and defiance are definitely on the rise.

I don’t know what the answer is, really. If I did, I would be a millionaire.

I know the problem is larger than the talking heads are reporting. Defiant and disrespectful students are part of our everyday lives now. We can’t be calling police on them and seeing them tossed across a classroom. We need policies in place that put consequences into play immediately, but those consequences need to be disciplinary SCHOOL consequences.

We can’t be okay with disrespect or defiance from our students, but we can’t be okay with violent responses to non-violent behavior. We just can’t.

A Happy New Year, THANK GOD!

NYE 2015I love new years. Each one makes me sigh in relief. Even if the year before was great, the clean slate of a new year shines like my classroom’s waxed floor in August before my classes stars.

This last year was NOT great. It should’ve been. I saw plenty of personal successes. But it wasn’t. I saw this image on Pinterest yesterday. It seems appropriate for what was 2014.

lost

I’m glad the minute that was 2014 is over now. It’s easy to find yourself at the end of a two-week break. I look forward to continuing that journey. And if I lose myself, I hope to do it in a way that is fun and fulfilling instead of a way that leaves me sick and tired and demoralized and up two sizes.

Here’s the thing. No person or entity or schedule or dashed expectation can make me lose myself. I know that. In the moment, though, it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to place blame and waste tears and sink into the morass of dejection and powerlessness. But the deal is I’m only powerless if I cede my power. I did that in ’14. That’s over now. 🙂

I’m looking forward to 2015 and all it’s waxed floor shininess. I plan on moving the furniture of my life and expectations around a bit and scuffing the floor of this year. I’m going to be a grandma–sometime in the next month–and I’m getting rid of these two sizes I’ve gained and I’m going to write more Liz Lee romances (those are the steamy ones…proceed with caution). More than anything, I’m going to surround myself with positivity. That doesn’t mean I’ll accept the awful in education. I’ll still fight for fixes there. That doesn’t mean I’ll be okay with hate and misogyny and inequality. I’ll still post stories that expose those behaviors. It does mean I won’t let those things take away my joy.

I’m looking forward to 2015!

Leggings From Hell and Other Nonsense

2 I'm a touristI blame the cold. Before I write anything else, let me make that clear. See I couldn’t stop coughing last night, so I started the night in the recliner.When I was in that recliner with the old comforter my husband’s grandma made him that he loves but I just sort of like (the comforter, not his MeMa. I liked her just fine), I thought I’d reached the low end of suckage for 24 hours. Thought. I had no idea.

It was the last day of school this semester so no way was I missing today. Not unless I spiked a 102 fever or some such nonsense.

No problem. I coughed all night, enough that my voice sounded like a lifetime smoker and my abs felt like I’d used the Pilates DVD I bought a billion years ago then promptly stuck in the movie box for use later, BUT no fever. So school was a go.

I might have felt like crap, but I figured I’d at least attempt to look good. I grabbed the new leggings I’d spent real money on instead of the shiny less than five bucks ones from Walmart.

If you’ve ever gone to battle with a pair of leggings you’ll understand my next few lines.

I tugged and pulled and jumped and hollered and swore and started sweating…and coughing…and finally wrung those stupid non-pants into submission.

I found my ancient Christmas Santa sweatshirt and pulled it on over my dress. Last day, so Santa is a must. I zipped up my boots and looked in the mirror. Yeah. Looked good. If I used my cough drops wisely, no one would guess I was actually sick.

When I sat down in the car, I should’ve understood. But no.

I ignored the strange feeling that my leggings were starting to slip. And I continued to ignore it as I made my way up the stairs to my classroom. And I continued to ignore it as I started class, but about ten minutes in ignoring it was no longer an option.

My leggings that I spent real money on looked like an old man’s long johns. The butt was sagging, the knees were somewhere around my calves, the waist barely held on to my hips.

And I couldn’t stop coughing, which only made it worse. Because I’m 45 and coughing non-stop when you’re 45 is one of the seven levels of hell on the bladder, let me tell you.

Somehow I made it through the class.

I still can’t stop coughing. The leggings I spent real money on are in the trash. This semester is over and I’m sure I’m not alone in praising Jesus for that favor. It’s kind of funny when I think about it tonight.

Those stupid, god-awful, who the heck thinks leggings should STRETCH OUT WHEN YOU’RE WEARING THEM?!, leggings are a metaphor for my year.

I’m teaching a new class. It’s a new add-on to an already crazy schedule, and instead of rolling with it, I’ve tugged and pulled and jumped and hollered and swore A LOT and started sweating and thought way too much about the loveliness of losing myself in tequila (that last one is teacher hyperbole, Ma, don’t freak out). After 21 years, I should know better. You can’t FIGHT a class. You will lose. Or at least that’s been my experience. You also can’t throw a class in the trash and say good riddance–they’re kids and they deserve a teacher, but thank God, we get do-overs next semester.

Here’s hoping for a better 2015. And a healthy 2015. I’m kind of tired of this cold. Happy holidays!

Dear September Self,

SeptOk, I guess we could even say August self, but August is different. August is the giddy, sparkly, shiny new year self, and she regularly lives in the world of make believe, Disneyfied education where everything is beautiful and wonderful and people sing songs about the greatness of teachers. September is the real world, smack against a wall, what the heck was I thinking, it would be easier to work-at-Walmart-Target-ToysRUs-Cheddars-ElChicos-TheMallEvenThoughYouHateShopping. So listen up September self. Teaching is hard. It’s always been hard. It’s a sucker punch to the gut hard. And it’s a heck of a lot harder now than it was back in the days of teaching six of eight or five of six. So yeah. Eat right, sleep, take your vitamins, walk, find something to binge on Netflix, buy the tequila and margarita mix and suck it up.

DO NOT plan on writing…or creating much of anything really because you’re going to come home and want to bury your head in the sand, a romance novel, a bowl of homemade chocolate mousse. Wednesdays will suck. Bad. So bad you might think about investing in the complete Sopranos collection because violence is good on Wednesdays.

BUT

September passes. Round about the 24th of the month you start to feel like you know what you’re doing…sort of. By the last weekend, you’re excited about the year again.

And the kids…the kids are great. They’re probably having the same problem with Wednesdays, so don’t plan tests or deadlines on Wednesdays.

Take a deep breath and know September passes. ❤

Sincerely,

Your 2014 late September Self

The extroverted introvert dilemma

stressI sat in the back of the auditorium, my speech in my notebook, ready to share with the staff what I’d learned about professional learning communities and how they could change everything if teachers were given the time and resources to make them work.

My hands were shaking, I was sweating, I thought about blowing the whole thing off. My friend, our speech teacher at the time, Debbie gave me a thumbs up. Okay. I could do this.

And I did.

And it was amazing.

I was shaking the whole time, but the adrenaline rush was tremendous.  People listened to what I said. Everyone didn’t agree with the outcome I proposed, but everyone appreciated the effort. And they had ideas of their own. Ideas that would lead to student achievement.

(Leadership Cohort changed me, challenged me, made me speak up. First post about those days here.)

But still, over seven years later, I have to force myself to speak up in a room of people. Small groups, no problem. Big groups…gulp.

I’m an extrovert on the inside, an introvert on the outside. It makes for some hilarious self-talk, let me tell you.

I’m working on this. If my inner extravert weren’t trying to come out on a regular basis, I’d wrap my introvert self up in quiet awesomeness. BUT that’s not the way it is. I want to speak up, I want to talk to people…even people I don’t know. So here goes.

Another pledge. I’m going to embrace both sides of myself. But I’m not going to let the introvert win. No more sneaking out of meetings as soon as they’re over without talking to others, no more WANTING to share with the group but keeping my mouth shut because I’m nervous.

This is turning into a July of pledges for me. Good thing I’ve got The Success Principles to help me succeed! ❤

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NINE DAYS

A week of regular classes and then finals. We can do this. We can do this. We can do this.

Hopefully the technology works in my classroom tomorrow since we’re supposed to have a newspaper deadline. If it doesn’t, we’ll figure something out.

That’s been the theme of this year. It’s not our tech’s fault. He works so hard trying to keep our room running. Something was off this year, though. Hopefully it’s fixed for next year.

That’s one of the best things about this job. We get do-overs.

Whew.